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Visit Herstmonceux Castle: The Perfect Day Out In East Sussex

Visit Herstmonceux Castle: The Perfect Day Out In East Sussex

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply in search of a charming day out, Herstmonceux Castle is sure to enchant and delight with its diverse offerings.

In this article, you will learn what there is to do at Herstmonceux Castle and why it is worth visiting.

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Hertmonceux Castle Observatory

The first thing you see as you arrive at the Herstmonceux Estate in East Sussex is not the moated fairytale castle you expected but the green-domed roofs of the observatory science centre. Intrigued? You will be!

You are probably wondering where the castle is and why there are some weird green-roofed buildings straight out of a sci-fi movie! Well, here’s the answer.

In 1958, Herstmonceux became the official new site of the Greenwich Royal Observatory. London’s light pollution made Greenwich no longer the best location for an observatory, so with its dark skies, Herstmonceux became the Royal Observatory’s new home. 

Over the years, light pollution and climate change meant East Sussex was no longer the best place for the Royal Observatory. In 1984, the world-famous Isaac Newton Telescope was moved to the Spanish island of La Palma. Here, the dark skies were perfect for observing the solar system.

Over the years, the observatory was used less, and in 1990 was moved to Cambridge University’s Institute of Astronomy.

Nowadays, the Observatory Science Centre is a popular place to visit for a family day out in Sussex. Kids will love getting hands-on with the interactive objects and learning lots about forces, nature, and the solar system. The observatory has open evenings for stargazers to learn more about the solar system.

Of course, while the observatory is fascinating, you have come to this post to learn about the fabled Herstmonceux Castle. So, carry on reading and discover everything you need to know about this historic moated castle nestled deep in the East Sussex countryside.

Herstmonceux Castle, stone bridge and moat.
stone bridge leading across the moat to the entrance of Herstmonceux Castle.

Herstmonceux Castle History

Castle Herstmonceux, built in the 15th century, sits on 300 acres of woodland and formal walled gardens. It is one of England’s only intact medieval brick castles. Its romantic moated setting and magnificent stone bridge undoubtedly make Herstmonceux Castle, pronounced herst-mon-zoo, one of Europe’s most beautiful fairytale castles.

Owners of Herstmonceux Castle

Like most medieval castles, Herstmonceux has had its fair share of owners and has gone through good times and bad. Sir Roger Fiennes was the first owner and close ally of King Henry V and Henry Vl. Fiennes also owned Hever Castle, which subsequently became Anne Boleyn’s childhood home. It is one of the most beautiful castles in Kent.

The king granted Fiennes permission to alter his original manor house and turn it into the fairytale castle we see today. Above the enormous wooden portcullis gate, you will see the Fiennes coat of arms.

The castle was left to decay in the 18th century and looked like something from Gothic horror, with ivy growing over its exterior.

Thankfully, in 1932, Sir Paul Latham, a member of Parliament, brought life back to Herstmonceux. He added whimsical luxuries to the grounds, such as the folly house and a swimming pool.

The castle and grounds are now privately owned by Dr Alfred Bader and used as an international study campus by Queen’s University, Canada. For this reason, the public is not admitted inside the castle without prior permission from the university.

Cloister at Herstmonceux Castle.

Elizabethan Walled Garden

Step back in time as you stroll along the yew tree-lined promenade. Imagine the Elizabethan gentry walking along the same pathways in these stunning gardens. Sweet-scented flowers and herbs line the garden’s Grade ll listed walls, adding a pastel backdrop to the red-bricked castle facade.

The Elizabethan garden also has two manicured lawns bordered by low hedges: the Croquet Lawn and Queens Walk.

Flowers in the walled garden at Herstmonceux Castle.

Sundial and Rose Garden

You may be surprised to see various sundials scattered amongst the rose bushes in this formal garden area. These reference the time in history when the Greenwich Royal Observatory was at Herstmonceux.

John Flamsteed’s statue takes centre stage in the garden. This Royal Astronomer established Greenwich Observatory in the late 17th century.

If you haven’t been to Greenwich before, it is an exciting place to visit on a day out in London. As well as the Royal Observatory, you can walk in Greenwich Park and visit the National Maritime Museum. When you are ready to eat or shop, you can check out Greenwich’s boho vibe at its markets and cafes.

steps up to the rose gardens in Herstmonceux Castle.
Steps leading to the Sun Dial and Rose Garden

The beautiful rose garden showcases many different rose varieties and is a splash of colour and scent amidst the sculptures.

A sculpture of a girl reading a book and sitting on a wall.
Sculpture in the Rose Garden

Sculpture Walk

If you like African art, you will enjoy the short sculpture walk, showcasing abstract artworks.

Sculpture Walk at Herstmonceux Castle.

Shakespeare Garden

Shakespeare’s garden used to be the location of the castle swimming pool in the 1940s. It now showcases plants mentioned in Baird’s works.

Fruit trees in the formal garden at Herstmonceux Castle.

Lower Garden

My favourite area on the castle grounds is here, and it is the butterfly garden. Planted with flowers and evergreens to attract the 43 native butterfly species in Sussex, the delicate pastel shades combine perfectly to create a beautiful space.

Herstmonceux Woodland Trails

If you like exploring nature, you will love the formal gardens and acres of woodland waiting to be discovered.

Follow the nature trails, and if you enjoy reliving your childhood like me, take a moment to swing beneath the canopy of the oak trees.

You can also follow the trails to the magical garden, an area with red Japanese maple trees and a five-acre wildflower meadow. The meadow promotes a wide range of native wildflowers, attracting insects such as butterflies and bees. 

Woodland Swing

The Folly

Follies were structures on country estates in the late 19th century. They were built purely for aesthetics rather than serving a purpose; the more elaborate the creation, the wealthier the landowner. Follies could range from designs such as houses to pyramids and temples!

Sir Paul Latham, who owned the castle from 1933 to 1946, created Herstmonceux’s folly. The house looks normal from the outside, but once you walk through the door, it is a complete shell inside.

A small house which is a folly.

Before entering the castle’s formal gardens, why not complete the rope maze? On my visit, families with young children were having a great time trying to figure it out.

The Apothecary Garden

Back in the formal gardens, don’t miss the Apothecary garden. Here, you can find herbs used as medicinal remedies or in cooking. Plant labels offer the name and description of each herb, its use, and how it got its name.

Long Border

If you have brought a picnic, a lovely place to sit near the Long Border, just outside the walled garden. Benches positioned within a long bank of yew trees and beside a wall of trailing clematis make this the perfect place to rest.

The Long Border has some African art sculptures within its flower borders. These lead to the magnificent 300-year-old sweet chestnut trees that stand by the castle’s side entrance.

Arched doorway in the walled garden.

Before leaving, head to the Herstmonceux Castle Visitor Centre and learn more about the castle and the surrounding area. With over 600 years of history, Herstmonceux is an interesting and beautiful place to spend a day in East Sussex.

Herstmonceux Castle.
View from the car park entrance.

Information About Herstmonceux Castle

Address: Herstmonceux Castle and Gardens, Wartling Road Entrance, Hailsham, East Sussex, BN27 1RN

The nearest train station is Polegate, which is approximately seven miles away (15 minutes by taxi).

Entry prices: £8 for adults / £3.50 for children under 18 years (2024 prices). Closed over the winter period.

The good news is that the formal gardens are wheelchair accessible.

Herstmonceux hosts an annual Medieval Festival that showcases England in the Middle Ages. This annual summer event features jousting and falconry displays, recreations of medieval life in England, and much more.

Please Pin For Sussex Days Out

If you are interested in castles in Kent and Sussex, here are some others you may like to read about:

Scotney Castle in Kent

Chiddingstone Castle in Kent

Walmer Castle in Kent

And if you are looking for beautiful Sussex gardens to visit, please take a look at these posts:

Discover Leonardslee Gardens: Beautiful Lakes and Woodland in West Sussex

Visit the Beautiful Borde Hill Garden in West Sussex

Discover West Dean Gardens: A Beautiful Day Out near Chichester in West Sussex

Sussex Prairies Garden: A Unique and Modern Naturalistic Garden

Stefan (BerkeleySqB)

Wednesday 21st of April 2021

Great post, Angie. Brought back some fond memories from our visit. It's such an amazing piece of architecture.


Monday 25th of January 2021

Absolutely loves your photos and breakdown of the area. It's my dream to visit castles in England one day and seeing these pictures made me feel like I was there with you. If I ever do make it to England one day, this castle will be on my list to visit, especially if I can time it to also attend the medieval festival they hold.


Monday 25th of January 2021

I'm so glad you enjoyed reading all about it, and I hope you get here one day. I'm fortunate that England has so many castles to explore, so I never run out of historic places to visit!